Here in the South, we love when turnips are in season, so that we can savor the subtle, smooth sweetness of their roots and spicy bitterness of their leaves. While some of us gave up on turnips as children after tasting too many bland ones, fresh turnips are actually a flavorful, nutrient-packed, easy-storing, and versatile vegetable.
Roots or Leaves? Both!
The roots are suitable to mash, slice paper-thin in salads just like a radish, or sauté with a little olive oil and light seasoning. You can throw leaves in braises, chili, stew, and lasagna—anywhere you want pungent accents of colorful greenery—or simply cook them in the oven or on the stovetop with a little soy sauce, honey, lemon, stock, or spices.
Time Travelin’ Turnips
Southerners have grown and treasured turnips since the crop was introduced by early European settlers, but more recently, turnips have made their way onto fine-dining menus nationwide with varieties like the small, sweet Hakurei of Japan. In French cuisine, turnips have a long history of distinction and are often prepared with generous amounts of butter, cream, and cheeses to bring out their earthy, smooth flavor.
How to Select
Turnips are most commonly round, sometimes pear or oblong, often with cream-colored smooth skin and crisp white flesh, though other colors are widely available. Like other fall harvest roots, such as carrots, parsnips, and celeriac, they grow and store well in cold, dry climates. Some grocery stores will sell turnips with the greens removed for longer shelf life. Look for unblemished, firm roots with deep green leaves, if available. Store roots and leaves separately in plastic bags, removing excess air. Leaves last about 4 days, while roots will last up to 3 weeks.
How to Prepare
Wash your turnips thoroughly in a basin of cold water, or gently scrub them clean with a vegetable brush. You can peel your turnip roots as you would a carrot, if you prefer, but only peel the outermost layer. Separate the leaves from the root, and prepare according to your recipe. If you’re using the greens, remove the tougher stems from the leaves.
Paula’s got some great, Southern-style recipes for turnips as a stand-alone side or as a complement to other hearty ingredients, like pork tenderloin or dumplings!